Libraries and eBook Publishers: Friend Zone Level 300

In returning from vacation last week, today’s social media catch featured a wonderful juxtaposition of library eBook oriented links: the ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group report, “EBook Business Models for Public Libraries”, along with Library Journal’s Francine Fialkoff’s editorial “Too Many Ebook Cooks: Ineffectual Committees Aren’t Fast Enough To Ensure Robust Access”. The report is an all too brief recounting of the current state of library eBook affairs, a showcase of current models as well as a handful of points to help ‘make our case’ to encourage publishers to allow library eBook lending. I can only presume there is a larger report to follow, but I’m not sure how one will be able to stretch the benefit of “Readers Advisory” into longer than three sentences. Francine’s lament editorial calls upon the ALA to stop forming committees, workgroups, taskforces, interest groups, battalions, and pep squads to talk about the eBook situation and, well, do something. Despite the fact that there will be no “one size fits all” eBook solution, she points to two gentlemen (Jamie LaRue and Patrick Losinski) who are doing something about the eBook issue in their respective communities (the former pioneered a library eBook ownership and lending model, the latter formed an ebook advocacy organization which I guess doesn’t count against Francine’s original ‘too many groups’ complaint.)

These two articles provide an excellent bookend to a brilliant blog post I read before I went on vacation, Sarah Houghton’s “I’m breaking up with eBooks (and you can too)” (Take a look at the link itself, folks!) Sarah’s post about eBooks paints them as a crappy boyfriend, but I think the relationship is more akin to being put into the friendzone, an term that could be broadly defined by one party looking for more in a relationship while the other is unwilling to consider a change in the status quo.

Consider the situation: unless the publishing industry has been living under a rock, it knows that public libraries have a keen interest in lending eBooks. Publishers certainly like libraries (and have sent out the rosy platitude laden press releases to prove their fond rapport) but balk at allowing them to lend eBooks. “Sorry, libraries,” they are saying, “We like you very much, but not in that way.” On top of that, libraries get to listen to publishers complain bitterly about their relationship with the retail giant Amazon about how they are getting a ‘bad deal’ in the eBook arena. Really?

Personally, my sympathy train doesn’t stop at the station anymore for the love-hate-love-hate-hate publisher-Amazon relationship dynamic. It’s a liaison that is so awful and so terrible that publishers were forced into collusion with each other and another eBook retailer (*coughApplecough*) in order to save their archaic business way of life. It must have been agonizing to conspire to artificially inflate eBook prices while cashing Amazon’s checks for their part of the sale in a market that has seen record sales increases over the past few years.

I’ve grown tired of the oft expressed line when it comes to the Big Six publishers and eBooks: “We just need to talk to them.” Uh huh. I guess sending a top ranked ALA delegation to meet with them in New York City, having a major library trade publication provide actual research into member borrowing/buying patterns, and countless news articles, blog posts, and social media utterances just hasn’t reach them yet. Like some wide eyed naïve Jerry Springer guest, librarians feel that publishers will change if only they could only listen to our hearts, hear the purity of our cause in the name of literacy, and let the love overcome their fears. Yeah right.

For the record, I will fess up to being one of these If-they-only-knew-us-they-would-love-us types desperate to make that connection, that breakthrough in which publishers suddenly see the light and start allowing reasonable library eBook lending. Thankfully, this is has given way to cynicism, bitterness, and that crazy little notion known as ‘reality’. I’m sure those big publishers hear us for vast and many reasons and rationales, they just simply don’t care or don’t want to change the relationship. Case closed.

Quite frankly, I’ve heard enough about a demand for leadership to rise up and lead the Pickett-like charge for library eBook lending. I want to see leadership for the “walk the fuck away” camp, an ideology centered around not wasting time, energy, and resources on deals that don’t serve the library as an institution, the community as a dependable and enduring resource, and our stakeholders as a wise investment. There are other publishing entities out there that are worthy of our attention and our budget lines. Let’s find them and build ourselves a better relationship.

It’s time to get out of the eBook friendzone.

8 thoughts on “Libraries and eBook Publishers: Friend Zone Level 300

  1. I find it interesting and that a woman using the abusive boyfriend metaphor while a man used the friendzone metaphor. The friendzone concept is sexist and not really helpful.

    • In pulling back the curtain for a moment, I had considered whether or not to use the term ‘friendzone’. I knew it was a charged term so I asked a female friend about using the word for the blog post I had in mind. She gave me an honest answer in saying that it could go either way; it was a rather subjective term that some would find offensive while others would not.

      After I wrote the post, I asked her to read it before I placed it online; this is something I rarely do with any of my blogging. She did not object the term as it is used in the post, so I hit Publish and let the chips fall where they may. Whether you agree with the term or not, I would hope that you would consider the relationship between libraries and publishers and how it pans out for library eBook lending.

    • I’m 24-year-old library worker, and I had to look up the term “friendzone” on Google before I could decide if it was sexist or not..

  2. I don’t find the friendzone concept sexist at all. I have been put in the friendzone as a woman. It is a rotten place to be no matter who you are. And I think the metaphor is apt for where libraries are with eBooks. That being said, of course I still prefer my own neglectful, abusive boyfriend metaphor…but I’m also a little more prone to fits of anger about these things than Andy is 😉 He’s much more balanced and sane. Well done, sir. Well done.

  3. Pingback: Libraries and eBook Publishers: Friend Zone Level 300 | eBooks and libraries |

  4. I see nothing sexist… rather the assumption of sexism is rather heterocentric…but that is a whole other wave on a whole other ocean. Articulating a working partnership in terms of intimate personal relationships is a fine way to describe things these days between libraries and publishers.

    I think a reasonable strategy libraries might want to take up is to frame the argument in the context of commons. When libraries own a book, it is the property of the people. When we rent (arguably) ebooks the people are spending money and not owning the material. I think that hits a populist theme that is understandable and resonates well with the public.

  5. Pingback: Libraries and eBook Publishers: Friend Zone Level 300 | Bibliotheken en uitgevers |

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